published Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Vols facing recruit challenges

Audio clip

Jamie Newberg

Chris Miller, the head football coach at Byrnes High School coach in Duncan, S.C., woke up Tuesday with two of his talented defensive ends prepared to enroll early at the University of Tennessee.

By Wednesday morning, as the departure of Lane Kiffin from Tennessee to Southern Cal topped the sports world headlines, Corey Miller was still in Knoxville but Brandon Willis was off to play for North Carolina. Miller is rated the No. 27 prospect nationally by Rivals.com, while Willis has been tabbed No. 41.

"The main thing for me is just worrying about my players," Miller said. "Supposedly, when you go off to another school, they promise to take care of them and do the things that I was doing for them when they were here. I know business is business and everything like that -- it just happened really fast."

Tennessee is hoping to avoid a meltdown after losing its coach with three weeks before national signing day. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron also have headed west to coach the Trojans.

Barely 12 hours after Kiffin briefly addressed the media Tuesday night in Knoxville, the Vols had lost four of their 22 commitments and had a slew wavering.

"It's to be expected, because it's not like they're recruiting chopped liver and nobody wants their kids," Rivals.com national analyst Jamie Newberg said. "This could potentially be devastating and set this program back, because this was the key year for Kiffin. This class was going to be the foundation, so whoever inherits this job is obviously going to have a daunting task in front of them to salvage a potentially devastating situation."

Former Ooltewah defensive end Jacques Smith is among the many wavering. Smith did not attend class at Tennessee on Wednesday and will use the next few days to decide whether he will stay with the Vols or pursue another school such as Georgia or LSU.

"This is a business," Smith said, "and everybody's making a business decision that's best for them."

Bolting immediately were Willis, Atlanta linebacker Michael Taylor and Miami defensive end Delvin Jones. Joining them hours later was Calvin Smith, a defensive tackle out of Hialeah, Fla.

Newberg contacted Jones on Tuesday night and found a prospect very much in the dark.

"No one will answer the phone up there," Jones said. "I am trying to call all those coaches, and no one is answering their phone. I haven't heard from anyone. I feel lost right now."

The last prominent program to experience a similar shakeup was Miami in 2001, when Butch Davis left nine days before signing day to coach the Cleveland Browns. The Hurricanes promoted Larry Coker and won the '01 national title and played for it again in '02.

Should Tennessee stop the bleeding quickly, the Vols still could finish with a respectable class. They only dropped from sixth to ninth nationally in the Rivals.com team rankings, but ninth nationally is also sixth in the SEC.

"I think there will be more defections," Newberg said. "You just hope from the standpoint of the offensive line and defensive line that these kids stay, because that was going to be the nucleus of this class."

Miller hopes his defensive ends find success both in Knoxville and Chapel Hill. Tennessee provided his program some unwanted attention this past season when a pair of Orange Pride recruiting hostesses traveled to Duncan in late September to watch the Byrnes defensive ends.

With Kiffin now out of the South, Miller believes things finally can get back to normal.

"I am kind of glad that it's over now," he said. "It's a done deal."

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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